In Which a Literary Protest Is Attended, Briefly

Via a post on Ron Hogan’s Twitter feed earlier this week, I made my way down to the sidewalk out in front of the Union Square Barnes & Noble after work one night. A small crowd had gathered, and a

“Ah,” I thought, “this is about Mischief & Mayhem.” (In retrospect, I’m not sure how I didn’t get this from the original post, which makes it pretty clear.) I  stepped out not long afterwards — I already knew the basics of their operation, and (here’s where I make a very awkward face) didn’t realize that a proper reading would follow the declaration of said manifesto.

With all that in mind, I’m not entirely sure what I make of M&M’s business model, or that of OR Books, with which they’re affiliated.

Mischief + Mayhem’s titles will be produced only in electronic or print-on-demand editions, and will be available, initially at least, exclusively for purchase online from the publisher. This arrangement avoids the enormous waste of the current publishing system, which ships books to stores, fails to promote them, and then sees many of them returned, unsold, to the publisher.

That said, I have been meaning to order several of their titles — namely the Gordon Lish collection, Eileen Myles’s Inferno, and now Lisa Dierbeck’s The Autobiography of Jenny X. But I’m also a fairly staunch buy-it-locally-if-you-can guy, which leaves me unsure of the ethics. Either way, I’m supporting an indie business, whether publisher or store — but the fact that OR’s model is, essentially, storeless worries me in its implications.

I also recognize that this isn’t the case for everything OR does — I could (and probably should, before long) order some of their books via my local bookstore. And they also seem to recognize this, as they just announced a partnership with St. Mark’s Bookshop.

(And there’s an entirely different discussion that could also be had, about how I don’t necessarily have this same internal ethical debate when dealing with independent music & indie record stores. On the other hand, though, my understanding of the underlying ordering structure of publishing vs. that of the music industry means that this isn’t as much of an issue. If I’ve gotten any of this horribly wrong, feel free to correct me…)

On “The Instructions”

Apparently, my theme for reading this autumn is “books the size of my hea.” First, Ulysses; now, Adam Levin’s The Instructions. (Joshua Cohen’s Witz is up next, I suspect. Or maybe George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.)

Two reviews come highly recommended. Maud Newton’s is what first piqued my interest in the novel, while Bookavore’s is spot-on in its take on the novel’s ambition, its risks, and its debt (or lack thereof) to other massive/ambitious novels of recent vintage (specifically, those of David Foster Wallace).

So: some reflections. If there is a Wallace influence here, I’d say that it’s less in the way the novel plays with text and — to a much lesser extent — with media., though those qualities are definitely present, and do suggest the comparison. If there’s one aspect of The Instructions that does call to mind Infinite Jest, it’s more the structure: not quite a proper circle, but one which buries pieces of information. It seems innocuous at first, but slowly, over the course of hundreds of pages, casual references and even simply the presence of certain names begin to become hugely significant.

Levin also uses his scope well. There’s a certain cumulative effect that one can only find in a novel of a certain size — that combination of narrative or symbolic payoff with length. (The moment in Pynchon’s Against the Day in which the book’s title is explained, for instance; having made my way through three-quarters of the novel, the force of that section, of that explanation, gave me chills.) Here, it comes very near the end of the novel; it provides context for a certain passage of text, and it’s masterful.

The novel’s coda finds Levin writing in a particularly controlled yet chaotic tone, wrapping a host of speculation and possibilities in a curiously restrained way. And it’s significant that, though Levin has created a particularly striking narrator in Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee, two of the novel’s most resonant passages are written in the voices of other characters. The ambition and thematic implications of The Instructions are impressive enough. What makes this novel even more impressive are the unexpected places that Levin takes risks — and that those risks pay off as well as they do.

In which a THE2NDHAND collection is released

allhandsonThis week brings with it fine news — in this case, the announcement of All Hands On: THE2NDHAND after 10. I’ve had a number of pieces appear in both the print and web presences of said literary broadsheet, and I have a deep fondness for the work that they do. (Todd Dills’s editorial eye has definitely challenged me, pushed me, and made me a better writer; and the experience of reading with him twice in 2007 has also made me a better reader.)

Here’s a bit more information, from their press release:

The 300-plus-page All Hands On collects previously unpublished stories by the likes of past contributors Nadria Tucker, Patrick Somerville (The Cradle) and Joe Meno (The Great Perhaps) as well as new faces like Amanda Yskamp, Ben Stein and others. Special sections over the bulk of the book are occupied in most instances by multiple shorts from our best repeat writers, from Meno, Somerville,Tobias Carroll, and Al Burian to Heather Palmer, Jill Summers, Kate Duva and longtime T2H FAQ editor Mickey Hess (Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory).

One can learn more at the project’s Kickstarter page. Worth a contribution? I’d say so.

In Which I Have Been Blogging for a Decade

Ten years ago, I started blogging. Literally: the first post to appear on my first blog — hosted by a small press called TNI Books, now sadly defunct — was dated November 19, 2000.

Looking back at it, I find myself laughing and cringing in equal measure. It looks about like what it is: the writings of an overly earnest guy prone to digressions, prone to oversharing, prone to a deep enthusiasm about books and music.

In the fall of 2000, I was halfway between freaked-out and elated: I started blogging between dot-com job no.1 (duration: seventeen months) and dot-com job no.2 (duration: three months). The first post on my blog came days before my first trip out to the Northwest: five days in Seattle and two in Portland that still resonate with me. (It’s one of the reasons I’m eventually getting  some representation of the Steel Bridge tattooed on my arm — though whether that’s tattoo no.2 or no.3 is, at this point, still unclear.)

Ultimately, it’s those first few words that still set the tone, and that still bring a smile to my face.

2:06 AM right now. Red Forty’s discography is on the stereo.

It’s a start.

(And every once in a while, something like this, its timestamp suggesting I was blogging well after 4 in the morning:

aol just crashed on me.
this is the essence of what I was trying to say in a rather legnthy  [sic] post which is lost now: Portland is very, very nice. Trying to find non-chilled Henry’s Dark in Portland is kind of a nightmare. But it’s possible.

And that, too, warms a fella’s heart.)

This whole strange system of — if I might borrow Blogger’s onetime slogan — “push-button publishing” has been good to me. I’ve made friends, learned new things, had questions answered, given license to explore. Here’s to the next ten, whatever they may hold.

The unsettling fiction, and also Minnesota

File under: books I remember remembering fondly. Ron Hogan discusses Thomas M. Disch’s “Supernatural Minnesota” novels at, and I am very much intrigued.

…Disch used a deeply caustic and ironic voice, and a keen sense of family drama, to carve out a unique place for himself in late 20th-century horror.

I can remember reading The M.D.: A Horror Story when it was first out in paperback, close to — dear lord, that can’t be accurate — twenty years ago*. I can remember it creeping me out, and very little else; based on Hogan’s essay, methinks I’ll need to revisit said novel, along with its cohorts, and soon.

Yeti, Ten in Number


Those of you with a fondness for esoteric music, good literature, and the places where the two intersect may well already be readers of the fine publication known as Yeti.

The tenth issue of said magazine is now available for pre-order; it contains, among other fine things, an interview I did with the esteemed Amelia Gray. I am, I daresay, quite pleased with how it turned out; you may well be, too.

On Watching “Credo”

Made my way up to the Church of St. Paul the Apostle on Monday night for Credo, a concert held as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. The main draw for me had been a chance to see selections from Jonsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps performed live, and while those pieces did impress*, the highlight for me came from the Kjartan Sveinsson work that gave the evening its name. Steve Smith’s review at the Times describes it as

resolution repeatedly thwarted in favor of sustained reverie.

Which sounds pretty accurate. I was quite impressed with  Credo: the elements of the piece seemed beautifully matched and balanced, and the overall effect was deeply moving. Needless to say, I’m curious to hear more of Sveinsson’s work (which includes some film soundtracks and — based on the bio — much of this).

*-though, from where I was sitting, the electronics seemed to be mixed a bit high relative to the musicians and choir.

On Reading Mammoth Works of Fiction

So: I read me some Ulysses last week.

To an extent, I did so knowing that this wouldn’t be a fully immersive experience — I had dim memories of a Martin Amis essay on Joyce’s novel rattling around in my head, had some trepidations about approaching it without a small reference library by my side, and then decided to delve in anyway.

Having finished the novel on Saturday night, I feel sure that I “got” maybe a third of it — there are classical allusions and references to Irish politics of the early 20th century that went more or less over my head. I acknowledged this going in, which may read as blasphemous to some. Honestly, my goal here was to simply read the novel. It had been sitting on my shelf unread for years, and it seemed like a good enough time to read it. It won’t be the only time I do so, I suspect, and I wanted to have one session with the book with which I could  simply immerse myself in its pacing and its rhythms.

For the record: it left me wrenched and deeply, deeply moved and, for the bulk of it, utterly thrilled at what could be done, and what was done, with the words on a page.

Word Counts & Early November

Unintended radio silence. Holed up; working on a short novel and something that might end up being a novella: essentially, the most functional parts of the novel you may remember me rambling about a bit around these parts a year or two ago.

It’s something of an object lesson, really: word counts of the short novel and the novella are not dissimilar, but one feels like a novel; the other feels like something else, something abbreviated and much more focused. Not necessarily truncated, though — though it may also take the addition of a more bitter aftertaste for that to function correctly. And it may not function at all. Evidently, the novel-length version did not. Unsure now whether the belief that this section can function on its own is borne of realism or of a hesitation to let go. But hey, worth a shot.

Two Literary Reviews, on Word Riot

For what it’s worth, I reviewed Matt Bell’s How They Were Found and James Kaelan’s We’re Getting On, both for the October issue of Word Riot.

Here’s a bit of the Matt Bell review:

From these two stories, one might take Bell for a writer on the more accessible side of experimental fiction: a curator and manipulator of certain known quantities, sometimes making himself known as he walks among the scenes he presents. But after reading the thirteen stories collected here, a picture emerges of a writer with a much grander reach.

And here’s a bit of the Kaelan review:

What you make of We’re Getting On may well depend on what edition you hold in your hands. The slimmer of the two – the one with spruce seeds buried within the cover – contains the novella of the same title. The longer of the two shares its name, but adds three other stories, which place “We’re Getting On” in a slightly broader context, and lend it new shades and depths.

At Dusted: Two Reviews

This week’s reviews at Dusted include Antony & the Johnsons’ Swanlight:

Swanlights‘ moves in the direction of accessibility are balanced by more unsettling moments. The pair of songs that close the album, “Salt Silver Oxygen” and “Christina’s Farm,” are each bracing and occasionally shocking. The lyrical imagery in “Salt Silver Oxygen” moves from a childlike sense of delight to something more complex, religiously informed and subversive.

And The Moondoggies’ Tidelands:

Tidelands, the followup, doesn’t necessarily sound like any of the potential followups one might have envisioned. Which isn’t to say that it’s a complete break from its predecessor, either – this is clearly the same band, albeit one that’s shifted away from both the CCR and the Meat Puppets DNA in its lineage.

Comics + the Javits Center

Spent a couple of hours on Sunday taking in the New York Comic Con. Visited some of the fine people from WORD, who were selling books on-site; bought work from Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and Carla Speed McNeil.

I did resist the urge to send a post to Twitter saying something like, “I’m cosplaying a bearded man in an Original Penguin shirt*.” Which is probably for the best, really. And when I saw one guy dressed as the Captain Universe version of Spider-Man, my respect for the accumulated obscure knowledge of the people around me grew by leaps and bounds. There was an intense amount of sensory overload there, but I have to say — I kinda want to go back next year.

*-though: if you create an autobiographical comic and then show up at a convention, are you technically cosplaying yourself?

This week in Vol.1 work

Another week, another handful of pieces up at Vol.1.

I’ve started off a semi-regular zine review column with a look at issues of Womanimalistic and Pins & Needles.

Paquita’s style here favors ornately drawn and arranged pages featuring both illustrations and test. This issue opens with a long, illustrated meditation on love, and lovers, with text taken from Carson McCullers’s “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.” Later, the work turns more specific – one piece, called “Punk Medical Myths,” leads to a longer section dealing with health and wellness issues, and the issue closes out with an account of Paquita’s experience of becoming a beekeeper.

And I contributed a long write-up of the “On the Well-Tempered Sentence” event held on Wednesday night at the Center for Fiction.

[Madera's] introduction to the evening as a whole included some criticism of intentional flatness in contemporary fiction. He praised “sentences as a vehicle for an unsettling of things,” and went on to cite William H. Gass’s essay “Music of Prose” and Don DeLillo’s Paris Review interview. Madera’s own observations, and his citations of Gass and DeLillo, placed the sentence in a realm of physicality, rooting it firmly in the body.

A quick word on notable music writing

Very quickly: it’s worth noting that Zach Baron’s “Is It Possible to Sell Out in 2010?” is one of the best pieces of music writing I’ve encountered this year.

Fast forward to 2010. How do consumers vote with their dollar? By not spending it at all. Ask Ted Leo–people are no longer buying enough records to support musicians, period. Major, independent, whatever. No wonder then, as Sisario puts it, “lifestyle brands are becoming the new record labels.” Someone has to pay artists, and increasingly, we’re not doing it. So who is the enemy in 2010? We are. Not the majors. Not Converse. Us.

Give the whole thing a read. If nothing else, it’ll make for a fine conversation-starter.

Living Safely / Living Science Fictionally

A week after seeing him read, I finished reading Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe earlier today. It’s a relatively short novel, and throughout it, Yu navigates a divide between what’s essentially an extended metaphor and a time travel storyline that’s satisfying on its own terms. And he pretty much pulls it off. The recent creative work it reminded me of more than anything was Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep — a very personal work in which theory and abundant emotionalism coexist, sometimes awkwardly, with an underlying emotional logic. (And, for that matter, a flawed protagonist haunted by an absent father.)

There were a few bits that, for me, didn’t quite work — specifically, one areference to a culturally seismic series of films seemed overly specific  given that it coexisted with more archetypal genre elements throughout the space of the novel. Still, when the novel needs to be moving, it’s genuinely moving — in its consideration of failure, and of the breakdown of the narrator’s relationships with each of his parents. It  doesn’t hurt that Yu has a tendency to veer into  extended, gorgeously written sentences — deep enough to encompass the theories on which the novel touches, and flowing enough to keep the reader enmeshed in the narrative, curious as to what might come next.